April 7th, 2010
11:21 AM ET

DA to teachers: New sex ed course could get you arrested

A district attorney in Juneau County, Wisconsin, warned teachers in a memo sent to schools that if they teach the new sexual education curriculum mandated under state law, they could be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a child.

Because the law requires teachers to instruct children not only about contraceptives but about how to use them, Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said, schools are forced to encourage students to "engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender."

And since minors can't legally have sex in Wisconsin, teachers would essentially be endorsing the behavior and could be held liable, Southworth said in the letter.

"It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks," he wrote.

In his letter, Southworth said the law would convert sex education classes "into a radical program that sexualizes our children as early as kindergarten. This, in turn, will lead to more child sexual assaults."

Southworth sent the letter to five school districts and said they should drop all sex education curriculum until the law could be changed.

The law doesn't force any schools to teach the sex education classes, but it sets out strict guidelines on what should be taught in the schools that choose to do so. The law passed narrowly in the legislature and was the topic of a fierce battle between Republicans and Democrats: No Republicans voted for it, and it was signed by a Democratic governor.

Those who support the law hail it as a chance to keep down the rate of STDs and teen pregnancies and to properly educate students, but opponents say that rather than giving children all the information necessary to have sex, they should focus on a curriculum of abstinence.

Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, a Democrat, told the Wisconsin State Journal that she believes there's no problem with the law.

She said Southworth, a Republican, is a "zealot" who wrote the letter to try to scare people out of teaching the sexual education classes.

"Using condoms isn't a crime for anyone," Roys told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "This guy is not a credible legal source on this matter, I'm sorry to say. His purpose is to intimidate and create enough panic in the minds of school administrators that they'll turn their backs on young people and their families."

In his letter, Southworth argued that it is a crime and that he's just trying to help schools be aware of the legal danger they could be putting themselves in.

"The teacher could be charged with the crime even if the child does not actually engage in the criminal behavior [of having sex as a minor]," Southworth wrote.

Both the State Journal and the Journal-Sentinel spoke with school administrators who said they were seeking legal advice on the matter.

soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. JC

    I've been teaching sex ed and trust me, you'd be surprised at how many teens can't describe the right way to use a condom. Some have said to unroll it FIRST and then put it on, use TWO at a time, use baby oils as lubricants etc.

    I've worked with teens who were taught only abstinence and when they got pregnant a lot of them said that people just told them not to do it, but never explained what to do if they did get pregnant–they knew nothing about Plan B, or that "if we do it standing up I won't get pregnant" is a myth. Sex ed NEEDS to be taught.

    April 7, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sheila

    This is ignorance at it's best. Education gives you enough knowledge to make an intelligent decision.

    April 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lana

    Yes, abstenense education works. School should not teach the kids about such a private matter.

    April 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. John

    Abstenense education does not work, never has and never will. Especially in such a sexual driven society that we have now. If someone thinks our abstenense program is working then look at the statistics, its as easy as that. However, there are countries where they start teaching sexual education as early as kindergarten and it has a profound effect. Not only are STD's down and Teenage Pregnancies down, but it also decreases the rate of kids who are sexually molested. This is due in part becuase they understand what is going on. Knowledge is Power!!

    April 7, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ted Marr

    Gee, I'm 67, is it too late to get into the class.

    April 7, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. brad

    In what way does this encourage, or even condone sex among minors? When my children are teenagers, I will tell them that they can call for a ride if they are drunk – no questions asked. That is not approving of the behavior, it is just facing the reality that people will make bad choices, and endangering them by keeping them ignorant isn't a proper way to deal with it. I don't see where the "mixed drink" analogy comes in, unless teaching them to mix drinks can save their lives... maybe this DA isn't the brightest person out there.

    April 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Paul

    If anyone actually thinks that abstinence education works, they weren't paying attention when the standard bearer of conservative women couldn't keep her own daughter from becoming pregnant before marriage. In her case, she didn't even get married afterwards. Please spare us the nonsense. Kids need to be taught about this stuff because they are doing it anyway and without a clue how to protect themselves they are getting diseases and pregnant. Is that the solution? To bury your head in the sand and hope they won't do it? Face reality. Stop living in a fantasy world because the ones who will get hurt the most are the kids.

    April 7, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Elise

    It's like telling kids not to drink and then teaching them how to make mixed drinks? To me it sounds like these extremists would not educate kids not to drive after drinking because it would be an endorsement to drink!

    April 7, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Foz-man

    An atty Gen. threatening to arrest teacher for teaching state mandated curriculum. Wonderful use of the taxpayes money.

    April 7, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dave

    Conservatives have been sold a lie. NOBODY wants to teach condom use to kindergartners. Sex-Ed before Jr. High is all about families, and love, and hugs, and how children can deal with inappropriate sexual advances toward them. It doesn't encourage sexual assaults, it PREVENTS them.

    Furthermore, the DA's notion that sex ed increases the likelihood of sexual offenses is either embarassingly misinformed or disturbingly dishonest. There are multiple studies demonstrating that the opposite is true.

    April 7, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. nascarlucy

    I attended a strict church-run college where officials believed that if you didn't talk about sex or provide information regarding sex, then students wouldn't have sex. They were in for a big surprise when an article in the college newspaper talked about several students who became pregnant and terminated their pregnancies even though it was against their religious beliefs. Because these women were from middle and upper middle class backgrounds, the reaction to it was much different than if these women had been from lower socio-economic standing. The reaction to this article was anger at the person who revealed a dirty little secret that had been known for years but never openly discussed At that point they started having sex education and discussed contraception. Being that we were adults, there was no legal issue involved.

    At some point you will need this information. Parents from the conservative background that I'm from can't discuss it or they given out incorrect information. I learned about sex from my peers and a lot of it was inaccurate. My mom believed that I would figure it out myself (I was a smart girl). This is not how you teach sex education.

    The best thing to do would be let the parents decide what their children should be taught and then get their permission before any class is taught.

    April 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Conflicting Laws

    I agree that this is nuts, however, I get why the DA sent the letter. As the article states, it is against the law for minors to engage in sexual activity in WI. Even if both parties are under age 18, legally it is considered statutory rape. Yes, the law is stupid, but it is the law none the less. Basically what he is saying is that by the school teaching minors how to use contraceptives, there would be potential liability on the part of the school if a parent with a bug up there butt found out little Johnny or Susie where "gettin' some", they could hold the school responsible. If people can sue McDonald's because the coffee is hot, I wouldn't be shocked to read about some parents walking away with a big settlement from suing the school for corrupting there sweet, innocent little son/daughter.

    April 7, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. steve

    Well, somehow it makes me feel better to know Republicans are losing their minds all over the country and not just in D.C.

    April 7, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LH Partridge

    Where is the John Scopes who will be willing to take this to trial?

    April 7, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gary Perry

    Just because teens will have sex anyway, does that make it right?? Get a clue. A little old-fashioned morality here. I'm not anti birth control or anti sex-ed., but come on...we don't need to encourage it. It's just not right.

    April 7, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
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